TAMPA, Fla. — Founded in Pennsylvania in the 1940s by two women, The Links, Incorporated was created as a club for Black women to make a difference.
“Because at that time there was no integration,” said Sonjia L. Little, President of The Tampa Chapter of The Links, Inc.
While the group started small, that’s no longer the case. It’s now one of the oldest and largest volunteer service organizations in the country.
“We have a committed group of women. An organization of over 16,000 women of African descent globally,” said Little.
The Tampa/St. Petersburg Chapter of The Links, Inc. was originally established in the 1950s. The local group split up into separate chapters in the 1980s to better fulfill community needs.
Links members contribute more than 1 million document hours of community service annually.
“We cover all aspects of life, of communities but we break them down into what we call facets or community service areas,” said Little.
Links members have a shared vision to serve the community through these areas:
- services to youth
- the arts
- national trends and services
- international trends and services
- health and human services
The group is committed to enriching, sustaining, and ensuring the culture and economic endurance of African Americans.
“That just touches the surface. It’s not all of what we do, it’s some of what we do,” said Little.
The women are using community partnerships to give back through things like donations, mentoring, workshops, the arts, and volunteering — here and around the world.
“We actually have built a school in Africa and we’re very proud of that,” said Little.
The Links, Inc. also gives scholarships to students.
“We believe in donating to HBCUs and we’ve done that with open arms. Every year we give scholarships and I reached out to the scholarships chair and the total scholarships awarded from 2020 to the present has been $20,500. But that’s just this chapter,” said Little.
Now, the Tampa Chapter of The Links, Incorporated has partnered with USF Libraries’ Special Collections to archive their history.
“Archives are something that in general we don’t think about,” said Juel Smith, Ph.D. and member of The Links, Inc.
“One of the things that we try to do is try to preserve kind of community history as it’s happening and so getting involved with the Links is a great opportunity to sort of do that,” said Andy Huse, Associate Librarian at USF.
The group worked for a year to figure out where to archive their information, eventually going with USF.
“The chapter became very involved in wanting our information somewhere archived,” said Smith.
This will intersect with more than 40 women’s collections in Tampa Special Collections and is the first and only African American women’s service organization to join these records.
“Just another example of trying to preserve community history and trying to get a diverse look at the community so people in the future can study all kinds of people that lived here,” said Huse.
The group donated many of their documents to the library and they’ve been added to special collections.
“We’re also interested in preserving their memories through oral histories so we started an oral history program with them and recorded an interview with one of their presidents and kind of going from there,” said Huse.
This will contribute to the vital representation of African American women.
“One of the big problems that we have from a historic point of view is we don’t have a lot of great sources going back say 100 years about what Black life was like in Tampa or much of the rest of the United States,” said Huse.
“It’s a great opportunity for people 10 years, 50 years, and into the future to figure out what was going on, what were enterprising women of color up to that were in The Links? I think you can tell a lot about a community by what they’re doing,” he added.
“The main thing is education. We want to educate the community. We want to continue to educate our students,” said Smith.
“In the big picture that we leave a blueprint in the community in Tampa or whenever we are in the Bay area of meaningfulness for the people that we serve,” said Little.
Members of The Links, Inc. strive to inspire the next generation.
“My hope is that some student who looks like me, who grew up like I did might see in me the inspiration for what the future holds for them. I can do that as an individual but as a group, the work is magnified,” said Little.